Illinois Democrats are desperate to have Chicago named as the site of the Obama Presidential Library, so desperate they pulled a sneaky “off-site” vote to spend $100 million in tax dollars on its construction. But the underhanded vote and the unfunded expenditure of millions the state doesn’t have had Democrats running for cover after politicians, the media, and the voters erupted in criticism of the move.
The snap decision to throw $100 million tax dollars at a project that isn’t even assured came in for heavy criticism in a state that has one of the worst budget overruns in the country. But the way the decision was made and the many conflicts of interest involved in the campaigning for the library also raised eyebrows all across the state.
One such conflict is that the woman who heads the Illinois Arts Council Agency is the wife of the Speaker of the Illinois House, Democrat Michael Madigan. Shirley Madigan expects to have a big role in the planning and construction of an Obama Presidential Library, a project of which her politician husband is a big booster.
But the essentially secret vote gave stark evidence of the shady way Illinois Democrats do business, critics said.
The committee responsible for voting on the expenditure of the $100 million tax dollars convened in Chicago instead of the state capital, Springfield. On top of that, the Democrats on the committee didn’t invite any of their Republican members to attend nor did they inform them that the meeting was even taking place.
But even worse, they claimed that they could use previous committee votes as proxy votes for the Republican members and in practice cast the Republican’s votes without asking them for their actual opinion on the matter.
It may not be surprising, then, that the whole committee approved the allocation of $100 million for a new Obama library.
Of course, after this move was made public, the Republicans became a bit unhappy over the proceedings.
“What they did last week was under-handed and sneaky and offers further proof that they no longer can be trusted with taxpayer money,” said House Republican Leader Jim Durkin.
“This is typical Chicago politics at work” Durkin added. “The Chicago Democrats knew I wouldn’t support spending $100 million that we don’t have on a presidential library, so they decided to violate their own rules and cast my vote anyway.”
But even as Republicans–and many members of the media–began to criticize the $100 million expenditure, House Speaker Madigan’s spokesman accused anyone who opposed the move of being a “Tea Party” racist.
“The tea party gene has blossomed in full bloom in Springfield in 2014. You attach Obama’s name to anything and this rabid group jumps up,” Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said.
Republican state Rep. Ed Sullivan, though excoriated Madigan’s office for “polarizing” the debate.
“(Madigan’s office) is trying to polarize the political culture down in Springfield,” Rep. Sullivan told Illinois Watchdog. “We had the wrong … procedure on a vote on a somewhat controversial agenda item of the presidential library. But this has taken a turn.”
Sullivan pointed out that “Tea Party” politics are beside the point. The state just can’t afford to throw $100 million on the project. With $7 billion owed to state vendors and a $100 billion shortfall in its employee pension programs, Illinois is broke.
Illinois is in such bad shape that it preternaturally falls among the bottom five states of the nation in nearly every metric that makes a successful state. It is so bad that Illinois ranks 49th out of 50 for the best states in which to live. Only Rhode Island residents disliked their state more than Illinoisans did.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at email@example.com